New Zealand's largest citrus grower, T&G Fresh, says it is underway with harvesting the first of this season's satsuma mandarins.
The fruit and vege producer is developing 300 hectares of orchard in Hawke's Bay and Nelson, which it claims is part of its growth strategy. In August, T&G announced it was recruiting 150 permanent positions across its apple operations.
T&G global director operations, Craig Betty, says the creation of these new permanent roles demonstrates the company's commitment to continuing to expand its apple volumes. He says this will help the business to meet global demand, provide career opportunities to existing talend within the business, as well as to people in the wider community.
"Our apples business has an ambitious growth strategy in place to grow our premium Envy and JAZZ apple brands to meet worldwide demand," Betty says.
"To achieve this vision, it's critical we have a talented, passionate and supported team who are empowered to be their best."
He adds that despite the company's best efforts to recruit locally last year, the 2020/21 season was extremely challenging.
"With limited availability of skilled people ready to work in the regions, combined with a reduced number of Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) arrivals."
Betty says the new roles will help deliver on future growth objectives, while also helping retain existing talent.
The 150 new permanent roles were advertised internally amongst T&G's casual and contracted seasonal workforce, as well as externally. Those employed in the roles will move through harvest and post-harvest roles and will develop a thorough understanding of both operational and growing processes. This will include spending time developing T&G's 2D orchards as part of the company's pathway to automation.
"Across our growing operations, we're re-developing our orchards to 2D planting structures to support the efficient use of automation and robotics in the future," Betty adds.
"We're committed to our roadmap to automation and continually optimising our supply chain to increase productivity."
However, the new roles don't signal an end to the company's labour woes.
Betty says although these jobs will provide support at the peak of the apple season, T&G will still need to recruit thousands of people nationwide for the upcoming season.
"Recruitment remains a critical focus for the upcoming 2021-22 season," he explains.
"This season our team did an incredible job hiring more than 950 New Zealanders to work alongside a reduced number of RSE team members."
However, Betty points out that at the peak of the season T&G was still short of around 300 people per day, which meant a significant amount of fruit was left on trees.
"With these new positions, we expect our productivity to increase as we build our team's skills and capabilities, however, we'll still require additional seasonal team members to join us throughout the harvest."